Construction at Museum of Tolerance 311 .
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
After more than a decade of sitting empty in downtown Jerusalem, the
controversial Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance received final approval for
its new campus on Tuesday.
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The building permit, from the Ministry of the
Interior’s District Planning and Construction Committee, means that work can
begin on the site immediately.
“The project presents architecture that is
modest and thoughtful, and contributes to the creation of a public space that is
fitting for the area on a local and urban level,” the Interior Ministry said in
The building permit was awarded by the Interior Ministry,
rather than the Jerusalem Municipality, due to the sensitivity of the
Palestinian leaders said the site, opposite Independence Park, is
an ancient Muslim cemetery from the 12th century.
The Wiesenthal Center
was engaged in a four-year legal battle over the controversial location with
Arab activists. The Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the State of
Israel, which gave the land to the museum.
Last month, the project
received initial approval from the municipality for the new architecture plan,
designed by Chyutin Architects.
The new plan is $150 million cheaper than
the original project, designed by architectural superstar Frank
Kais Nasser, an attorney for the Muslim Committee, a heritage body
that aims to protect Muslim holy sites, argued that because the new project was
completely different from Gehry’s plan, it must go through the full approval
process, which can take several years. The new plan went through an abbreviated
approval process instead, which concluded on Tuesday.
“The area is a
Muslim cemetery, and there are political and ownership issues with that, and in
addition, they are building a totally different building from what the Supreme
Court approved, while minimizing the opportunities of the public to oppose the
project,” Nasser said last month.
An Interior Ministry spokeswoman added
that the only way to stop work on the project would be an injunction from the
High Court of Justice, which is a remote possibility since the court already
discussed the project in length and it has passed two approval
The Museum of Tolerance will include an amphitheater, exhibit
halls, classrooms, a stone plaza and a parking lot. As part of the project, the
Wiesenthal Center will also renovate Chatulot Square, a neglected plaza where
young people drink and use drugs at night.
Prof. Rashid Khalidi, who is part of a group that has challenged the legality of
constructing the museum on its current designated site, said the decision by the
local municipality was a violation of Muslim religious rites.
member of a group of 60 members of families whose ancestors are buried in the
Maman Allah (Mamilla) cemetery, we remain firmly opposed to any building in the
oldest Islamic cemetery in Jerusalem, as should any persons of good conscience
and moral integrity,” he wrote in an e-mail last month when it was approved by
“It is nauseating, and especially hypocritical, that
this desecration is carried out in the name of ‘tolerance’ and ‘human dignity.’”